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Alex Hutchinson: Game journalists exhibit "subtle racism"

Alex Hutchinson: Game journalists exhibit "subtle racism"

Fri 17 Aug 2012 9:20am GMT / 5:20am EDT / 2:20am PDT
PeopleMedia

AC3 creative director says press is biased in favour of Japanese developers

Alex Hutchinson, the creative director of Assassin's Creed 3, has said that he believes games journalists give Japanese developers an easy ride, exhibiting a "subtle racism" which is condescending to those it favours.

Speaking in an interview with CVG, Hutchinson expressed his frustration with the press' treatment of what he sees as sub-standard story telling in Japanese games.

"There's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do."

Asked about why Nintendo is able to endlessly iterate the same franchises multiple times in each and every generation, Hutchinson replied: "You want my real answer? I think there's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. I think it's condescending to do this.

"Just think about how many Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There's no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say 'oh it is brilliant'.

"Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time.

"It's patronising to say, 'oh those Japanese stories, they don't really mean what they're doing'."

"We had no interest in writing about the patriots or the defenders of king and country...These are very boring stories."

Hutchinson's slightly off-topic outburst is unlikely to make him many friends in the upper echelons of Ubisoft's management, although it smacks more than a little of a poor choice of phrasing. Nonetheless, he seemed unfazed and left the comments unmitigated, instead moving on to talk about what AC3's story wouldn't be about: historical accuracy.

"The best thing about it was that people had a view," he continued, referencing the public discussion Assassin's Creed's setting and story.

"That was perfect. People were debating it. We had no interest in writing about the patriots or the defenders of king and country. I mean, these are very boring stories. It's funny to see these debates online, and we just gave up trying to communicate on it because the game will speak for itself."

36 Comments

Popular Comment
Gears of War? Seriously? Give me a freaking break. Shoot the monsters, shoot the monsters! And then he goes on to call the reasons behind the war of independence "boring"? Really? Wow.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Fran Mulhern on 17th August 2012 10:47am

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
I blame Edge. They made it trendy to use the names of Japanese Developers. It was a kind of snobbery.
But it certainly isn't racism.
It is just like the snobbery about French Claret first growths or Italian Olive Oils or Scotch Malt Whiskeys.
They aren't racism either.

Posted:2 years ago

#2
And I'd take Bayonetta over Gears of War any day of the week.

Maybe there might have been some truth to this a few years back but you can barely move for articles claiming 'Japan done fell off' in recent times. What kind of racism was it when Phil Fish said "sorry Mr. Japanese man, your games suck"?

Posted:2 years ago

#3
This is a strange outburst indeed. Surely games stand and fall on their own merit internationally? In addition, Japanese localised games may suffer from loss in contextualization

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Dan Howdle
Head of Content

280 810 2.9
Popular Comment
@Bruce

I couldn't have put it better myself. It's just a hangover from the nineties when Japanese games really were (for the marginally greater part) the best. It's not true any more.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Robin Clarke
Producer

303 691 2.3
It's really been a bad week for devs putting their feet in their mouths.

Give me a game script that unashamedly embraces that it's a game over one that desperately wants to be a straight to video movie any day.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

DeShaun Zollicoffer
Editorial Director

18 17 0.9
Wow, really? Most of the time I hear Japanese stories getting thrashed by reviewers. 7/10 times Japanese games have confusing or bare-bones narratives. Bayonetta's story was horrible, but it was supposed to be campy and over the top. Gears of War tried to be serious and just fell flat.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Richard Westmoreland
Game Desginer

138 90 0.7
Bruce is bang on the money. It's snobbery, not racism.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

374 147 0.4
@Fran have you PLAYED Gears of War?
"Shoot the monsters, shoot the monsters!" is NOT the story line of Gears of War, that is an in game mechanic. That is like saying Lord of the Rings is about "Stab the Orc, stab the Orc" (sorry, couldn't think of an easier example of a decent story being ignored in favour of what happens along the way).

I played Gears, Bayonetta, Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned and Gears does have the better story line. In fact I didn't even try to play the other three for their story because it isn't worth it.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Christopher McCraken
CEO/Production Director

110 251 2.3
People trash Squeenix all the time.
Nintendo is declared dead or dying once a month, sometimes once a week.

So, my response to this is: LOL WUT?

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Yannick Boucher
Project Manager

27 1 0.0
He is making absolutely no sense. If anything I consistently feel it's the exact contrary. My hunch is he was drunk at the Ubi Gamescom party when he said that, seriously.

Posted:2 years ago

#11
Popular Comment
Am I the only one who thinks there's a racist attitude against Japanese developers? I don't think any critics forgive the technical shortcomings of modern Japanese games. They have consistently scored lower than the popular American shooters of the day. And culturally Japanese aspects of games are constantly looked down on in a derogatory manner. "Anime storylines," ornate armor, feminine men, have been derided in favor of dry, Anglo-centric realism, a la the Elders Scrolls franchise, and Call of Duty. This isn't just racist, its gender phobic, and chauvinist. And for the record Assassin's Creed has a fairly scatter shot, cryptic story line, lacking in strong characterization and coherent thrust. So I think maybe Alex Hutchinson needs to check himself before going on about other peoples' work and opinions.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Kevin Patterson
musician

186 103 0.6
@Devin - I think part of it is that for awhile, Anime types of characters and graphics were so heavily saturated in the gaming Market.
I for one was bored of the Anime style all the time. Don't get me wrong I love Anime, and I have enjoyed many a Japanese game, but this generations JRPG's have been mostly average in my opinion, with a few standouts.
Games that feature Asian characters that are true to life do well though.....I hardly think disliking the Anime style makes one one racist, gender phobic or chauvinist.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Steven Wemyss
Senior QA Engineer

33 31 0.9
Um what he's saying makes perfect sense really, he's not saying Gears of War's story was any good but what he is saying was that it was criticised widely for that aspect. Meanwhile people look at games like Bayonetta (or a better example would be Final Fantasy XIII or Metal Gear Solid 4) and they are basically given a free pass. Whether the games are any good or not is irrelevant, he was talking purely from a storyline point of view.

Japanese methods of storytelling are often very different from more "western" styles and it shows in not only games but anime, films, etc as well, often they don't work so well for a western audience as a result. Add in their different styles and tastes in characters and you often get very different style of stories than you would from here. It's not necessarily a good or bad thing but games regardless of where they're from should still be held accountable, maybe then we'll actually start getting more games with decent storylines and less generic crap.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Andrzej Wroblewski
Localization Generalist

102 69 0.7
That's got nothing to do with racism. It's the marketing people thinking "it's kawaii, it'll sell". In the end... whenever a product cycle starts plummeting down, you can always resort to cats to give it a few more flaps in the air.

Posted:2 years ago

#15
Popular Comment
I'll start by saying I liked the first Assassin's Creed.

However, I hate when the word racism is used when in reality Alex has never felt the real effects of real racism. @Richard you're right, snobbery maybe a better word to discribe his gripe with journalists that he may think favour Japanese developers.

Also, the opinions of journalists are their own and if that's what they like, then so be it. Alex's cocky approcach of forcing journalists to look at what he and his team are doing and expecting massive fanfare, dry ice while they lineup in a skein formation with their arms akimbo is shocking.

This shows he has a "subtle" prejudice against Japanese developers?

Seriously, as I mentioned from the start, I like AC series but to choose this setting for a lot of people like myself is not refreshing, its sickening. I wonder what Alex thinks this period in time was like? It certainly wouldn't be a nice place to be for me to have a fun adventure.

"AC3's story wouldn't be about: historical accuracy."

I wonder, when AC3 was proposed with this setting did the they deicde to have a lapse in memory and forget to depict the hundreads of thousands of people that died in the slave trade within the american revolution? Not to show this massive part of american history would be like forgetting to put the foundation in when building a skyscraper.

Woosaaa...

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Charles Herold
Wii Games Guide

35 74 2.1
Popular Comment
Apparently Hutchinson doesn't understand what the word racism means. If it's true that Japanese games get better marks than Western games, this would be more akin to the way film reviewers give more acclaim to foreign movies, be they Japanese, French, Italian, or Indian. It is more about snobbery combined with a certain disdain for the strengths of one's own culture than it is about race. This smacks of the way white people who can't get into a college scream about "reverse racism;" it's a way of using a loaded term just to complain that you didn't get what you wanted.

Posted:2 years ago

#17
Kevin, gender prejudice is not about aesthetic taste. If you are criticizing a character on the basis of their gender presentation---you are making a gender phobic critique. If you reject gender presentation on the basis of your national culture, that is a chauvinist, xenophobic attack.


Steven:
"Meanwhile people look at games like Bayonetta (or a better example would be Final Fantasy XIII or Metal Gear Solid 4) and they are basically given a free pass. "

I don't see how you could think this is true. All 3 of those franchises have been criticized for their story telling, and Gears of War consistently received higher praise and scores. Gears, and those 3 titles have flawed narratives for different reasons. But where does this supposed double standard come in?
Some critics do express affection for "crazy Japanese" ideas, such as the fact that Bayonetta grows body hair, and has stiletto shaped attacks. But I don't think it precludes those games from a broader narrative criticism.
I also think if anything, it is a Western-centric attitude towards story in games, that allows western critics forgive bad story telling across the board. If a lack of due diligence on story criticism is a concern, western critics need only look in the mirror.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Bill Garrison on 17th August 2012 10:18pm

Posted:2 years ago

#18
Um, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Gears of War 3 actually praised for its narrative? And last I checked more journalists are actually being critical of Japanese games these days, including Nintendo. I mean, come on, Nintendo Land? Really?

Something tells me this guy isn't going to be holding onto his current position for much longer.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Aric Norine
Animation

13 19 1.5
Nostalgia is one non-racist reason that reviewers could inadvertently be more forgiving to Japanese developers. Most 35 year old game journalists and developers spent their formative years steeped in the wonder of Japan's unique and creative works. For many of these people there will be a soft spot for Japanese-style storytelling and how it integrates into our memories.

That said, I don't see too much evidence of this pro-Japan bias happening in the media. And for that matter, are we in some kind of West vs East competition? There isn't much to gained from "Us vs. Them" attitude.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

1,019 1,467 1.4
I'm going to agree with what Bill said in his first post. This is silly and ridiculous and pretty close to the polar opposite of reality. If anything Japanese games get hit much harder than Western games.

The thing is, anything that gives blanket statements about all the games in a region is absolutely silly. Western games range from soulless blockbusters to outstanding indie games like LIMBO. Japanese games range from emotional powerhouses like Shadow of the Colossus to (intentionally) crazy pulp like Bayonetta. There's variety everywhere, if you know where to look. The real racism is statements like his, that generalize and degrade entire cultures and their works. Can we stop talking about games in terms of Western and Japanese and start talking about games in terms of the games themselves?

Some great stuff comes out of Japan, and while I really enjoy the Assassin's Creed franchise, someone talking about other peoples' stories as ridiculous as he directs a game about "genetic memories" is more than a little hypocritical.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 17th August 2012 9:23pm

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,174 1,123 0.5
Sorry, but WTF? Hey, Alex: Have someone in Ubisoft's PR department actually send me a copy of the game (PS3 and Vita) and you'll get a fair review. Personally, I give not a rat's ass WHERE any game is made. If it's good and I like it, it's scored based on those points, not who made it or where it was made.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Tony Johns

520 12 0.0
I just find those comments hard to believe.

Japanese Developers have had a hard time in the last few years when one of their own developers from that country said that the Japanese Game Industry is going downhill compared to the west.

I have also heard many negative comments from my university about Japanese games, most of them are mostly because of what they have heard or read on websites and some even going all negative over Japanese RPGs of this gen being lacking in story or content compared to the last few generations.

Most I believe, is due to some sort of culture clash while others are due to nostalgia for the older days. And some are due to people who have never played games from Japan except for the same old Street Fighter and Mario games.

I don't think there is any bias towards Japanese developers and there is no mild racism towards them, I just feel that you need to be able to be in tune with their culture to understand them, and with higher end game development being more westernized there will always be these people who would always knock against the Japanese, my view is that they should focus more on the games they are making and not be too concerned about the games coming from another country/culture.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Marty Howe
Director

62 27 0.4
Guys..It's Alex Hutchinson. A nobody. People are getting riled up from a comment from a nobody.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

David Radd
Senior Editor

359 78 0.2
This comment is very weird, mostly because I feel like Japanese games are often criticized for their uniquely Japanese elements, including and perhaps especially the press. Bayonetta vs. Gears of War is a very bad example, because the former's story is so odd and outlandish it borders on self-parody and the latter's very straightforward. I've read complaints of both, frankly.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Hector Remy
Programmer

8 0 0.0
I think it is as unfair as the music industry was towards asian pop-singers during the mtv decade. Mostly american or european acts were able to breaktrough at the time. The story's and characters may be weird but im glad they are. It's new and refreshing.

As a closing comment I want to say that I am equally frustrated against western developers for ignoring me because of my un-european heritage and not giving me a measly internship so i can get started in my dream profession. Life is unfair but atleast he is working with his dreamjob.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Hector Remy on 18th August 2012 10:59am

Posted:2 years ago

#26

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
Asked about why Nintendo is able to endlessly iterate the same franchises multiple times in each and every generation
Wait.... what?!! Two at the most... usually once. Unless you're counting the Mario Party franchise.
"Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time.
I think people are confusing the ability of local western journalists who are versed in Western storytelling and symbolism to appreciate and understand storytelling and symbolism from Eastern countries. In a similar manner to how western games do not tend to sell well in Eastern societies, Eastern games do not tend to sell well in Western societies. It stands to reason that you cannot critique something that you do not fully understand as much as something you do comprehend entirely.

As for snobbery? There's no snobbery when quality is in question. @ Bruce: Italian Olive oils really are better than any other I've ever had... Claret I can't comment on, but I find that Irish Whiskey is better than Scottish for my taste and Italian and French wines tend to be better than Australian, American and English wines.... And, of course, in case I need to state it (because that's how the conversation appears to be) quality is subjective to the consumer. You can't "measure" taste any more than you can personality.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,165 948 0.8
Seriously? I don't think it has anything to do with race more the status of the publisher/developer or the specific franchise. Some people wrongly (in my opinion) treat certain developers too favourably compared to others. Yes Nintendo but Bungie have been another example for me.

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

833 1,074 1.3
http://www.rubicondev.com/gbwg/

I see "replies" aren't working. There's a game with a game narrative, not some piss poor attempt at a story written by someone who couldn't hook a book publisher. All game stories suck imo, and games shouldn't need to be propped up by one.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 20th August 2012 10:06pm

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Private
VIdeo Games

103 14 0.1
I like the Gears of War story!

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

806 635 0.8
"I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time"

Did he just compared a story driven shooter with a fast combat brawler? really?.

Easter and western market both have good game and pure rubish: If you want to see pure trash "made in Japan" you only have to search for an anime/manga based game (with a few excepctions, of course). The Western marked has it's own equivalent; just switch "anime/manga" with "blockbuster movie license" and there you have it...

Still I'm amazed. The creative director of a great game as AC3 seems unable to know when a story is necessary or not... Maybe he expected Bayonetta or GoW to have the deep story of Mass Effect or Heavy Rain?

Each thing in it's own context, please...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 21st August 2012 9:31am

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Kingman Cheng
Illustrator and Animator

951 180 0.2
Did he just compared a story driven shooter with a fast combat brawler? really?.
Why not? I compare the wheel to sliced bread all the time because it makes sense! Oh wait...

Posted:2 years ago

#32

T. Elliot Cannon
Game Designer

14 4 0.3
"Hutchinson's slightly off-topic outburst is unlikely to make him many friends in the upper echelons of Ubisoft's management, although it smacks more than a little of a poor choice of phrasing"

Better watch the things you say over there Alex or Peland might put you in the "waiting for project" building down the street with all the other very bad children. ;)

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Tommy Thompson
Lecturer in BSc (Hons) Computer Games Programming.

44 28 0.6
Agreed with many who have already posted it isn't racism at all. It's cultural bias influencing our opinions on content within games. Given we are often submerged in the western tropes of story telling, it's far easier to condemn a game that follows those same trends (Gears of War). I doubt it is a westerners place to condemn the story of a Japanese developers game, it's not like CoD or Gears are being tailored for the Japanese market.

The reason Nintendo is able to re-iterate the same franchises every generation (and more than once in some instances) is really simple: they make GREAT games. Many of these games either ignore cultural tropes in storytelling to focus on something more universal or generic, or simply do without as it really isn't needed. I don't need a good narrative in a Mario game. The gameplay, in most cases, speaks for itself.

Posted:2 years ago

#34

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